Robert Winston is a stem cell researcher with a strong interest in science education. Sam Harris is a neuroscientist who writes about the conflict between science and religion.
They recently debated whether science and religion are compatible [Is there any place for religious faith in science?].
This is part of the accommodationist wars. Winston argues that there is no conflict between one's personal religious belief and science.
one who adapts to or compromises with an opposing view
This "war" is supposed to be about whether science and religion are in conflict or whether they are compatible. If they are compatible then it's perfectly reasonable for someone to support scientific reasoning as an important and valid way of knowing while, at the same time, believing the major tenets of some religion. However, as you can see in this debate, the accommodationist position is often confused. It's easy for them to forget the question and stray into other issues that upset them.
One of the things that upset accommodationists isn't the real question but whether it is polite or civil to "attack" the beliefs of legitimate scientists.
As Robert Winston puts it ...
You quote Collins in your book: "as I rounded a corner and saw a beautiful waterfall hundreds of feet high, I knew the search [for God] was over." You write, in commentary, "it is astounding that this passage was written with the intent of demonstrating the compatibility of faith and reason". But he is making his own personal judgement about his circumstances, not preaching to the world. Your writing is lovely, funny, but I don't think the denigration of a serious scientist like Collins does a lot of good. We should be very careful about criticising other scientists, except when their science is clearly at fault.The problem for Winston is not really whether the scientific approach is consistent with evangelical Christianity but whether it is appropriate to even raise the issue because it "denigrates" compatibilists. As expected, Winston takes a few swaps at the attitude of the New Atheists.
The quotation from Winston also highlights another aspect of the accommodationist wars. Winston focuses on the ability of Francis Collins to "do science" as though that's what it's all about. ("But do his views detract from the outstanding work [Collins] has done?") This is not what the debate is about. As Sam Harris points out, there are Young Earth Creationists who do science but nobody would argue that Young Earth Creationism and science are compatible. Similarly, I have argued that there are scientists who believe in homeopathy and astrology but that does not make those subjects compatible with science.
The debate is about whether the principles of scientific reasoning are in conflict with the beliefs held by people of faith or whether the scientific way of knowing is compatible with another way of knowing that lies outside of science.
Whether one side or the other is being rude doesn't address the question. Whether a scientist can still pipette accurately while believing in silly things isn't relevant.
We need to keep the accommodationists focused on the main point and not on strawmen that have no bearing on the question. It's hard for us to do that but we need to keep trying.
[Photo Credit: David Levene: guardian.co.uk]
[Hat Tip: RichardDawkins.net]